Why Swearing Is F%*#ing Good For You
They raise eyebrows, are frowned upon, get censored, removed and bleeped-out: Most of us are taught from early childhood that swear words are bad.
But if so many of put so much conscious effort into cutting them out of our lives, you might ask yourself why profane language developed in the first place.
Why is a simple ‘Ouch!’ not enough when you stub your toe on the coffee table? Why do you curse the slow driver in front of you from the privacy of your own car? And what are the evolutionary benefits of swearing anyway?
The average American utters a whopping 80 to 90 swear words every day (some more than others). That’s about five curse words every waking hour.
And this isn’t just Americans. In fact, the world’s entire English speaking population is cursing today more than ever before. However… it might not be in vain!
It turns out that the frequent use of curse words may help you live a healthier, happier life in the long run. Let’s take a look at some scientific research conducted in the field of profanity.
Swearing helps to reduce pain
Take the toe stubbing example: You’re unlucky enough to bang your pinky toe against the coffee table and the first thing that comes to mind is your favourite 4-letter curse word (whichever that may be). The reason you’re not yelling random words like ‘pigeon’ or ‘broccoli’ is that no other expressions have the same effect on pain tolerance as curse words.
Research confirms this: In one study conducted by Frontiers in Psychology, a total of 92 subjects were asked to submerge one hand in an icy 3ºC water bath while yelling out allocated words. Some participants were allowed the use of the F-word, while others could only use invented swear words such as ‘fouch’ and ‘twizpipe’. Another group of subjects were given neutral terms such as ‘flat’ and ‘wooden’.
Each participant was then asked to report when they began to feel pain (an indication of pain threshold), and to remove their hand from the ice water only if the pain became unbearable (an indication of pain tolerance).
The results: The repeated use of the F-word while in pain increased participants’ tolerance of the painful feeling, while neutral words had no effect on how well the subjects could handle the torment. Interestingly, even words that sound like curse words – ’fouch’ and ’twizpipe’ – made no difference to either pain tolerance nor pain threshold, suggesting that only ‘true’ swear words have this pain-alleviating power.
That means, getting ‘fudged’ off won’t do your pinky toe any good – it’s got to be the real deal!
Swearing makes you stronger
Other studies focusing on the effects on human wellbeing have shown that cursing can actually make you stronger: Both physically and mentally.
Researchers asked people to holler out expletives while riding a stationary bike and holding a device that measured handgrip strength. The result showed that participants gripped stronger (and pedalled faster) while spewing out their favourite cuss words. This suggests that swearing is empowering and can help your overall physical fitness.
More than that, it can also be a fantastic emotional relief. A great example for this is road rage: You know too well that the person in the other car, who’s just cut right in front of you, can’t hear you. Yet it feels good to curse them from the comfort of your car seat. In fact, this emotional relief is so common, it has a name: Lalochezia.
Scientists believe that this alleviation of anxiety in stressful situations is the reasons why we’ve evolved to curse in the first place. It’s a method to express strong emotions like anger and frustration without having to throw a punch or act out, making those who swear (or choose words over violence) mentally stronger.
Studies also show that people who curse are not only perceived as more genuine and sincere, they are also less prone to lying: A series of three studies published in 2017 found that there is a clear link between profanity and honesty, as people who cursed had a higher level of integrity and lied much less on an interpersonal level.
Swearing signals trust
So, if cursing improves your pain tolerance, helps you get fit and makes you an overall better person, then you’d think it should be accepted everywhere and anywhere. But the opposite is the case, and there is still one place where swearing is almost always out of the question: Work.
Using profane language in a professional environment is still a big no-no in many workplaces, because well, it’s not perceived as professional.
But you might have a good excuse to swear there, too: A 2003 study of workers in a soap factory in New Zealand found that the use of the F-word helped workers express politeness, alleviate tension, and – most notable – it supported social bonding within the team. The research concluded that swearing can be used to signal closeness and trust within work groups.
So, does that mean you should go and curse out your boss? Probably not. But sometimes, despite what we’ve been taught since childhood, a little bit of ‘bad language’ can’t hurt.
I mean, fuck, it might even help!
One clever way to introduce a bit of cheeky swearing into your workplace is with WTF Notebooks: practical journals featuring tongue-in-cheek humor and the occasional F-word. The hilarious titles in our NSFW range also make great conversation starters and morale boosters for teams. Because who wouldn’t chuckle at a notebook titled ‘Shit they said is important’?
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